Whether it’s postpartum depression or baby blues, there’s a growing awareness around the mental health struggles faced by new moms. But what about dads? Did you know that one in ten dads suffer from male postpartum depression?!
In this post, we’ll dig deeper into male postpartum depression. Find out:
What Causes Male Postpartum Depression?
Science has proven that women’s brains make a huge shift after baby is born, but there’s evidence that men also experience significant changes that can lead to feelings that mirror the baby blues or postpartum depression (PPD). Let’s take a look at what causes male postpartum depression:
While mama’s estrogen levels are increasing during pregnancy, dad’s should be climbing, too. One study found that the higher a man’s estrogen levels were postpartum, the more involved he was in parenting and the less likely he was to experience male postpartum depression. Insufficient or dropping levels of estrogen contribute to depressive symptoms, and research has shown that treating people suffering from PPD with estradiol (a form of estrogen) vastly improves symptoms, although there are risks with estrogen supplementation. (source)
Low levels of the hormone vasopressin, a pituitary hormone which impacts blood pressure, could also be culprit. The brains of primate fathers who are extremely involved in parent-infant bonding during the first few months show a rapid increase in vasopressin receptors. Researchers speculate that fathers who don’t have an increase in vasopressin struggle to bond with their infants and are more likely to experience male postpartum depression.
High prolactin levels in fathers lead to a greater response to infant stimuli. Prolactin is another hormone related to the pituitary gland. In mothers prolactin is released to make breast milk, but it’s important for the reproductive health of both mom and dad. When prolactin is insignificant, fathers are more likely to experience symptoms associated with male postpartum depression. To increase it, try eating some of the same stuff that helps mama’s increase breast milk supply.
Maternal postpartum depression
Male postpartum depression has been moderately correlated with maternal PPD, meaning that if mama’s depressed, dad might be, too.
Male postpartum depression is also associated with stress and relationship problems. Some men feel neglected or pushed aside by the new baby. If they don’t have strong social and familial support structures, these feelings can be worse. The stress of new responsibilities and demands only make these feelings more difficult to bear.
Sleep deprivation is also a known contributor to depression, and there isn’t a new parent out there who gets enough sleep. It’s likely that mom has already been dealing with some insomnia during pregnancy, but it could be all new to dad!
Risk Factors for Male Postpartum Depression
If your partner has any of the risk factors for male postpartum depression, you can arm yourself with the knowledge that it might be coming and be prepared.
Risk factors include:
- Personal or family history of depression
- Frequent feelings of being overwhelmed leading up to birth
- Stress at home or at work
- Little to no support network
Signs of Postpartum Depression in Men
Believe it or not, no widely accepted diagnostic criteria exists to identify male postpartum depression. Often, men are evaluated by the same criteria used to diagnose women, and even that is limited.
While it’s true that men often have the same symptoms, they can manifest differently. Symptoms of postpartum depression in men include:
- Touchiness and irritability
- Violent outbursts
- Increased anger
- Conflict in the home
- Headaches and fatigue
- Digestive issues
Natural Remedies for Male Postpartum Depression
If you suspect that you might be struggling with male postpartum depression, there are some natural remedies that can help.
Up your Omega-3 intake
Omega-3 acids, found in cod liver oil, salmon, walnuts, and avocado, have been studied as treatment for depression. Scientists have noticed that depression is less common in countries which consume a lot of fish, and they think Omega-3’s could be the reason why.
Get more vitamin B
Need an energy boost? Don’t reach for coffee, instead pop some vitamin B. It’s a proven energy and mood booster, and low levels of Vitamin B12 have been linked to depression.
If you want to know for sure if you have a vitamin deficiency, your doctor can order a simple blood test.
Take baby for a walk
Don’t underestimate the power of a little fresh air. It not only provides good father-infant bonding time, but exercise also releases feel-good endorphins proven to reduce depressive feelings.
Babywearing promotes bonding with both parents, and can help a dad bond with baby if he’s feeling left out. It reduces crying and fussing, too, which could be aggravating a sleep-deprived dad. Check out my post for more tips on how to babywear safely, including which carrier might be right for you.
There are a ton of benefits of skin-to-skin contact with your baby, and they apply to dad, too! Skin-to-skin stabilizes blood sugar, breathing, and blood pressure. Plus, it reduces stress for both parent and child, and has been shown to help with postpartum depression in moms—why not dads, too?
Get outside or pop some vitamin D
Why walk outside? Vitamin D, of course. People have higher levels of serotonin, a feel-good hormone, on sunny days. It works to activate the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are natural antidepressants.
If it’s below zero outside and a walk isn’t possible, try a Vitamin D supplement or red light therapy.
Go to bed early
Your vitamin B or D levels may be just fine, but new parents rarely get enough sleep. And, as discussed above, lack of sleep can worsen depression. Try going to bed 30 minutes earlier, or squeezing in a nap. Avoid blue light emitted by your devices more than two hours before bedtime.
There are so many ways that water is good for your body, and that includes your brain. When people who normally drink a lot of water cut their intake, they report decreased calmness, positivity, and contentedness. People who normally didn’t drink a lot of water reported that their moods lifted and scored lower on a depression scale when they increased their water intake.
Acupuncturists insert needles into traditional points to stimulate natural painkillers in your brain, and researchers think that it can help with depression.
Talk to a professional or other dads
Make an appointment to talk to a counselor or mental health professional. Taking care of your mental health allows you to support your partner, who may also be struggling with depression, and build a better bond with your baby.
And since one of the risk factors of male postpartum depression is a weak support network, do your best to build one. Join a local dad’s group or reach out to friends who’ve recently had babies.
How Long Does Male Postpartum Depression Last?
Feelings of depression can begin while the partner is still pregnant, but male postpartum depression usually occurs three to six months after birth. It builds more slowly in men, which may be why it’s not caught as often as it is in women. Symptoms can last up to a year if the dad doesn’t get help.
If You Think You Have Male Postpartum Depression…
While our society is working to dismantle the stigma around mental health, some men still struggle to reach out and admit that something could be wrong. Take your feelings seriously, and get help if you need it.
And don’t forget to show yourself some grace. Having a baby is a big adjustment, and it’s ok to feel out of sorts for a little while.